India points finger at Pakistan
India points finger at Pakistan
By Joe Leahy and James Fontanella-Khan in Mumbai and James Lamont in New Delhi
Published: November 27 2008 19:03 | Last updated: November 28 2008 02:45
Indian commandos fought room-to-room battles with terrorists in two Mumbai luxury hotels on Thursday night as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in effect blamed Pakistan for the attacks.
The rear of the five-star Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel on Mumbai’s waterfront was on fire and the building was picked out by searchlights as India’s special forces painstakingly worked through the 565-room building, freeing hostages and guests trapped in their rooms.
Early on Friday morning police said terrorists were still holed up at both hotels along with an unknown number of hostages. Police had said 55 hostages were being held at the Taj and 39 people were trapped in the Oberoi. The number of people killed in the attacks rose to at least 119, with about 315 wounded.
Early on Friday morning sporadic gunfire and explosions were heard at a Jewish centre several blocks from the Taj where at least 10 Israelis were trapped or being held hostage.
Indian commandos were dropped by helicopter onto the roof of a Jewish centre in Mumbai, where suspected Islamist militants are holding at least 10 Israelis, live television pictures showed on Friday.
One victim was named on Thursday night as self-made millionaire businessman Andreas Liveras, 72, a Cyprus-born UK citizen who died shortly after he had spoken to the BBC via his mobile phone about the attacks.
Mr Singh, in a televised address, said the attacks were probably masterminded by a group based in a neighbouring country. “We will take up strongly with our neighbours that the use of their territory for launching attacks on us will not be tolerated and there will be a cost if suitable measures are not taken by them,” he said.
Pakistan denied involvement, with President Asif Ali Zardari describing the attacks as “detestable”. A little-known group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attacks. A militant claiming to be one of those holding the Jewish family rang an Indian television channel to offer talks on the release of the hostages while complaining about India’s actions in Kashmir. India and Pakistan are at odds over the disputed territory, with Islamic fundamentalists staging cross-border raids against Indian forces.
The attacks come at a critical time for the Congress party-led government, which faces an election by next May and is trying to deal with a slowing economy.
Commentators have been critical of its record on security, with police struggling to bring militants to justice despite the growing frequency of attacks in cities.
“We’re the ultimate soft state,” said Suhel Seth, a marketing expert who had a room at the Taj when the attacks occurred. “You have 20 people holding a country of 1.1bn people to ransom.”
Mumbai’s government said up to 25 men dressed in jeans and T-shirts and armed with AK-47s and grenades arrived by boat in the city and attacked up to eight locations. Mumbai’s most senior police officer A.N. Roy said the terrorists would be “caught or killed”. More than half have been reported killed or missing, and police said nine suspects had been arrested.
Condemnation flooded in over the attacks, which have brought India’s financial capital to a halt, with most businesses closed on Thursday, including stock markets. US President George W. Bush called Mr Singh to express condolences and offer support.
At least six foreigners, including Mr Liveras, an Australian, an Italian and a Japanese national have been killed. Mr Liveras set up Liveras Yachts based in Monaco. The wife of Karambir Singh Kang, Taj’s general manager, and their two children died from smoke asphyxiation, according to a hotel spokesperson.